- Dec 23, 2013
Mayor Heinrich of Heiligenberg
Heinrich, Mayor of Heiligenberg, liked to think that he was a worldly man who was difficult to surprise, but as he approached the encampment on the banks of the Meurthe river upstream of Nanzig he could hardly believe this wasn't the largest army in Europe. Camped here were eighteen thousand men under Count Albrecht von Wittelsbach, an experienced but cautious commander charged with defending Imperial lands from any Anglo-French incursion, while the Kaiser was leading an even larger army into France.
Heinrich had more than a few contacts throughout the English domain and he had a better idea than most of the sort of numbers that could be mustered by the new English king, William III, and in theoretical terms they would match the Imperial armies. But most of those numbers were in Britain tied up fighting against English nobles led by the Duke of Lancaster. It would surely take some time before the Empire met a sizable opposing army.
At the outskirts of the empcamptment, Heinrich was met by a servant of Eberhard's who took the Mayor's horse and led Heinrich through the mass of soldiers to the Duke's tent. Inside was a well appointed sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the encampment with Duke Eberhard in earnest discussion with a muscular but older gentleman who must surely be Count Albrecht. On seeing Heinrich enter, the two nobles exchanged farewells leaving Heinrich and Eberhard alone together.
"Well, Heinrich," began Eberhard, "I'm glad my missive reach you so soon because you've arrived just in time. We're due to break camp within a day or two."
"My lord, you're marching on France?" asked Heinrich. "Has the English army been sighted within the Empire?"
"Hardly!" laughed Eberhard. "Of course this news is only recently reached here; I'd hardly expect you to know already." Eberhard's comment pricked at Heinrich's pride since that was exactly the role for which Heinrich served on the Duke's council - he was the one who was charged with finding out about events before anyone else. He could see Eberhard's eyes twinkling with excitement that he knew of some momentous tidings before Heinrich, and so Heinrich let Eberhard have his moment: "King William III is dead! Perished in battle against Kaiser Lothar's army in Bourgogne."
That did catch Heinrich by surprise. "What was William thinking? He couldn't have had the army to take on Lothar so quickly."
"Indeed," responded Eberhard, "it seems William did not inherit his grandfather's political or military acumen. Their army was all but routed when their new king was slain, and now all of English France is open for invasion. It should have been an easy thing to take Artois and get the French lords to accept it as fait accompli before any meaningful English intervention."
"Your tone makes me think the Kaiser has slipped up, made a strategic error of his own?" guessed Heinrich.
Eberhard was enjoying this as he let out another bellowing laugh. "You could say that! Lothar has found himself on the sharp end of a peasant's pitchfork. Discontent in William's French lands has bred a sizable peasant rabble that presumably mistook the Kaiser's army for an English army come to put down their revolt. A needless battle fighting our own enemy's foes and it cost us our glorious Emperor."
Heinrich was a little troubled by Eberhard's mirth at Lothar's death though he bit his tongue. He wasn't keen to end up on the Duke's bad side.
Eberhard continued, "We hadn't yet received word that Lothar had perished when I requested you join me here, but it's political implications are no less serious. As a Prince Elector of the Empire I will be heading to Carinthia to formally elect the new Emperor."
"Lothar's son, Sieghard, is supposed to be a shoo-in," interjected Heinrich, keen to show that he was in fact in touch with the secret inner dealings of the Empire. "The Habsburg faction has the upper hand at present, and though Sieghard is still a boy, his tutors praise him for intelligence and insight far beyond his years. It would be prudent to be on the right side of that one as he's surely destined for greatness."
"Indeed Heinrich, I accept your counsel on the matter. Regardless, I do not believe this war against the English will continue. Dare I say it was not very popular with the nobles who considered it a vanity for Lothar, and I expect with their humiliating defeat the English will happily accept any cessation of hostilities without further quarrel.
"Now for the reason I called you here in the first place. At this point in time there stands two great forces in Europe, the Holy Roman Empire and the Anglo-French kingdoms under the House of Plantagenet. I believe your web of contacts extend as far as London, but in these turbulent times I would have you there personally. For the next few years I want you to study their politics, their military capabilities and, most importantly, how they think. Because I don't think this war against the English is going to be the last."
The cog that pulled up to the Queenhithe docks upstream of London Bridge was out of Amsterdam and carried Mayor Heinrich of Heiligenberg travelling incognito. The man that disembarked had the look of a desperate Dutch merchant rather than a provincial mayor or Ducal advisor. As he walked the length of the dock, Heinrich didn't merit a glance from the stevedores and sailors that filled the busy wharves.
It didn't take him long to find the object of his search: a seedy alehouse where a distinctive red cape marked his London contact. Heinrich seated himself opposite the man. The noise filling the venue even at this early hour was enough to keep their conversation private.
"Master Arley, I presume," Heinrich said using his passable English. His French was better and that might come in handy when dealing with the nobles, but here and now the common tongue was English.
Red-caped Arley looked relieved to have some company. "Indeed Master Heinrich. Good to finally meet you in person; though I've spent far too many of these recent days waiting for you here, drinking this piss-poor ale."
Heinrich appreciated the Englishman's candour, but he was here for business. "There's trouble in France and my journey here was not without troubles. I've already heard plenty of rumours about what's happening but I want the report from you."
"Indeed ... well, William's eldest son, Eustace, has inherited most of his father's lands, though Wales, Cornwall and some Flemish lands have gone to William's second son also named William.
"Both are still boys and the English nobles hold the bulk of the power in Eustace's lands. Meanwhile the French nobles are vying to take the throne of France while their is disunity here. First of these is Jean d'Ivrea, Duke of Champagne, an experienced military commander and veteran crusader. Second is Philippe de Bourgogne, the Duke of Burgundy, now that the Empire has lost interest in fighting for his province of Artois.
"On the other hand, an Irish rebellion has been swiftly crushed, and Duke Martin of Lancaster's rebellion is unlikely to last long as the man himself has contracted the slow fever."
With the report concluded, Heinrich handed over a pouch of coins. "Good work, Master Arley. I will be residing closer to Westminster for my time here, but I would appreciate continued updates. I will see you here at the same time every fortnight hence. And make sure it's worth the coin."
Arley surreptitiously checked the pouch and responded, "Same time, two weeks from now; don't worry, I won't let you down Master Heinrich."
It was a bitterly cold morning with a light rain coming down that seemed so common in this part of the world. Despite the poor weather and early hour, Heinrich had returned to the Queenhithe docks to negotiate passage back to the continent as soon as possible. Three and a half years he'd been in southern England and despite his early reluctance, he'd actually grown to like the place, particularly the organized bedlam that was the City of London.
But a lot had changed in that time and the situation in London was getting a little too hot for his liking. Of course King Eustace had come of age, but seemed to have little interest in the administration of his domain. He gave his trusted nobles free reign to run his various kingdoms while he idly threw extravagent feasts when he wasn't with his armies fighting one rebellion or another. That he was an apt mility leader may have been the king's one saving grace that was holding everything together.
King Eustace's wars on the continent against foreign powers had ended with no territory changing hands as the new Holy Roman Emperor had (as predicted) not continued the war for Artois, and neither England nor Aquitaine had the resources to continue their fighting in southern France.
However the troubled Welsh king, William, was under even greater pressure desperately trying to defend his Flemish lands from the Empire.
But the real problems were building internally. Duke John of Bedford, of whom the gossips had many scandalous tales to tell, had thrown his support behind Aubrey Plantagenet, the Duke of Cornwall and rebelling Welsh vassal.
Latest reports had Duke John's army at no more than a few days march from London and the time had certainly come to get away from the city. If nothing else, he'd learned a lot of the unusual customs and politics of the English realm and had more than enough to justify a return to Swabia. And while he might miss the English people, he thought while wiping the rain from his brow, he certainly wasn't going to miss the weather.